David Barton is quick to point out that most contemporary books about the Founding Fathers of America reference only other contemporary books about the Founding Fathers rather than the Founding Fathers themselves. (And yes, he does capitalize Founding Fathers.) Original Intent is part polemic, part catalogue, part aggregation of evidence that the Founders meant something other than the Supreme Court consistently interprets them to have meant. In fact, roughly one-third of the book is appendices containing brief bios of everyone deserving the title Founder, bibliographies to guide further study, and other information to fuel the Christian reconstruction argument.
To avoid confusion—this book is not a call to theonomy and should not be confused with the work of postmillennial Reconstructionists whose theology calls for the establishment of civil governments directly based on the model found in the Mosaic Law. Barton wants America to return to its supposed Christian roots and once more be a "Christian nation" devoted to biblical principles and morality. Much of his evidence is irrefutable: Jefferson did call himself a Christian, most of the Founders did cite religion as the only trustworthy support for any governmental system, and many contemporary historians are guilty of historical revisionism. And yes, the Supreme Court frequently rules in favor of perspectives to which the Founders would have been violently opposed.
Sometimes the sheer amount of information and source quotes Barton provides is overwhelming. But if you're using this as a compendium or reference work of sorts, the text's organization and extensive index will be very helpful. Chapter 18 of the text illustrates the real heart of the issue Barton wants to convince his readers of—that it is essential for America to return to the "original intent" of the framers of the Constitution, that America be not a religiously neutral nation, but one in which Christian principles provide a framework for legislators, who in turn uphold the ideals of personal liberty while still allowing for religious freedom and freedom of conscience.
The problem isn't that Barton doesn't present enough evidence, but in how he interprets the evidence. While it is true there were many godly men among the Founders, it's equally true that all of them were highly influenced by the Enlightenment and its naturalism, rationalism and progressivism. They spoke of Christianity frequently (partly as a cultural obligation), but when they drafted the Constitution itself they were thinking of Rousseau's ideal of a utopian humanist state as much as they were remembering the statutes found in Deuteronomy. And when he points out that Jefferson claimed to be a Christian, yet simultaneously admits that Jefferson was in no way orthodox or Christian in the sense we would mean it, we're left wondering what Barton's point is. A decent resource, Original Intent leaves plenty to be desired in terms of rhetoric and argument.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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